What does it mean to appear pro se?
“Pro se” is Latin for "self" or “on one’s own behalf.” Although most individuals, also known as “litigants” or “parties,” appearing before this Court are represented by attorneys, a small percentage represent themselves, appearing pro se. Litigants or parties representing themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney are known as pro se litigants.
What does the Pro Se Unit do?
The Pro Se Unit is a department within the Clerk’s Office that has two primary functions:
• To accept documents submitted by pro se litigants beginning with the filing of a pleading to start a case and ending with the filing of a notice of appeal.
• To provide procedural assistance to pro se litigants appearing in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Can the Pro Se Unit give legal advice or assist with the drafting of any pleadings?
No. Legal advice and assistance should only be given by lawyers to their clients. The staff of the Pro Se Unit consists of Court employees who are prohibited from giving legal advice.
Can the Pro Se Unit refer me to any attorneys for hire?
No. The Court is a neutral party that must remain unbiased throughout the entire legal process. Referring pro se persons to particular attorneys could be perceived as a bias; therefore, the Court always instructs a pro se litigant to research potential attorneys for hire. As a service to the public, the Court provides a list of attorneys who might accept cases on behalf of indigent litigants, but the Courts does not recommend or endorse any of the listed counsel or organizations.
Why do I have to submit my papers to the Pro Se Unit?
The Pro Se Unit has been designated by the judges of the Court to receive all submissions from pro se litigants. The staff of the Pro Se Unit will provide information to pro se litigants to help them comply in filed documents with the format requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Can I speak to the Judge about my case?
Generally, no. Local Rule 7.1 prohibits ex parte communications (i.e., one-sided communications without including other parties in the case) with any Magistrate or District Judges or their staff. The Court may notice a hearing or status conference in person or by video/telephone at which time parties might address the Court. Otherwise, pro se litigants may communicate with the Court only through pleadings or correspondence filed into the public record of their case through the Pro Se Unit.
Why can’t the Pro Se Unit tell me if my case belongs in federal court?
Whether a case can be decided in federal court is a legal determination made by a judge. Only the judges of the Court can determine whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the cases and personal jurisdiction over the litigants before them.
What kind of cases belong in federal court (subject matter jurisdiction)?
Federal courts have limited jurisdiction, meaning they can decide only certain types of cases. Unlike state courts, typically only two types of civil cases may be filed in federal court: (1) federal question cases; and (2) cases between citizens of different states (known as “diversity” cases). A more detailed explanation of those two types of cases may be found in the “Representing Yourself in Federal District Court” Handbook as well as OLRC Home (house.gov) under Title 28, Sections 1331 and 1332.
Is the Eastern District of Louisiana the right federal court for my case (venue)?
The Eastern District of Louisiana covers the parishes of Assumption, Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, and Washington. Federal law requires that certain cases be filed in certain districts. Please review the “Representing Yourself in Federal District Court” Handbook as well as OLRC Home (house.gov) under Title 28, Sections 1331 and 1332 for further information. The Pro Se Unit cannot provide advice about whether your case should be filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
How long do I have to initiate a lawsuit (statute of limitations/prescriptive period)?
The time limit to file a lawsuit is determined either by a specific federal law that is at issue or the type of claims raised in the lawsuit. This is a legal determination, so the Pro Se Unit cannot tell you how long you may have to file a lawsuit. In order to find out how long you have to file a case, you must do legal research. Many federal laws specifically state the statute of limitations period. But in some instances, state law, contracts, insurance policies, and other sources will provide the applicable time period for filing a lawsuit.
What if I cannot afford the filing fee?
While the filing fee is not waived, the Court sometimes permit litigants to postpone paying the filing fee until the conclusion of their case. In forma pauperis (IFP) is Latin for “in the form of a pauper.” IFP status is generally granted to those who show that they do not have the resources to pay the filing fee. To apply for IFP status, you must complete an “Application to Proceed Without Prepaying Fee or Costs.”
If a judge grants your request, you can proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). Permission to proceed IFP entitles a plaintiff only to file an action without prepaying the filing fee and costs for the United States Marshals Service to serve the complaint upon the defendant(s).
Local Rule 54.7, states that “if a party proceeding in forma pauperis prevails, either by judgment or settlement, all fees of the marshal and clerk must be paid before dismissal or satisfaction of judgment may be filed, unless otherwise ordered by the Court.”
Proceeding IFP does not mean that a party is exempt from paying the filing fee and services rendered by the marshal nor does it exempt a party from paying any sanctions or judgments the Court may render against them.
Who can serve my summons and complaint?
Anyone over the age of 18 years who is not a party to the lawsuit can serve the summons and complaint. Professional process servers may be hired to serve the summons and complaint. If you do not use a professional process server, you should carefully read Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to determine the method by which service must be made. If your application to waive the filing fee was granted and you are proceeding in forma pauperis, may also have the U.S. Marshals Service serve your summons and complaint. Please note that even if you have been granted in forma pauperis status, you need not use the Marshals Service for serving your summons and complaint. It is frequently quicker to arrange your own.
Why can’t the U.S. Marshals Service serve a John/Jane Doe defendant or a defendant without an address?
The U.S. Marshals Service will attempt to serve only a defendant who is named in the caption of the lawsuit at the address provided by the plaintiff. The Marshals do not perform any investigation as to the identity or location of a defendant. Therefore, the Marshals cannot serve a defendant who is identified as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” or a defendant for whom an address for service was not provided. The defendant must have an actual name and address provided for service.
I do not have access to a computer or typewriter, can I write my pleadings in long-hand?
Yes, so long as they are legible and on 8-1/2” x 11” paper. If a document consists of more than two pages, each page of the document must bear a sequential number, beginning with “2” for the second page. Page numbers should appear at the bottom of each page.
All pleadings should include the case caption including the division and section the case is assigned to after the case has been allotted.
How can I file my documents with the Court?
Pro se filers can submit filings to the Court through the following means:
In Person – The Pro Se Unit is available to the public. The office is in the intake area of Room C-151 of the Clerk’s Office at 500 Poydras Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130. The Pro Se Unit can be reached at (504) 589-7751 for remote assistance.
Mail – Filings can be mailed to the Pro Se Unit at the following address:
Pro Se Unit
500 Poydras Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
Electronically – Refer to the Electronic Document Submission System (EDSS) section.
Can I file my pleadings directly onto the record using CM/ECF?
Pursuant to the Administrative Procedures for Electronic Case Filings of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, only attorneys admitted to practice in this Court who have complied with Rule 2 of the Administrative Procedures are allowed to file documents using CM/ECF. Any requests for exemption to this rule must be made in the form of a formal pleading.
How long does it take for my pleading to appear on the record?
The Pro Se Unit strives to have all pleadings processed and placed on the record within 1-2 business days of receipt.
Can I communicate with the Pro Se Unit electronically?
No. The Pro Se Unit can be reached at (504) 589-7751 or in person in the intake area of Room C-151 of the Clerk’s Office at 500 Poydras Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130. The Pro Se Unit will not respond to any unsolicited correspondence sent by email, fax or through the EDSS.
Why can’t I sign my documents electronically?
Pursuant to Local Rule 11.1, all pleadings submitted to the Clerk for filing by a party not represented by counsel must be signed by the party. Documents not signed by a party will not be accepted for filing. Electronic (i.e., typed in any font) signatures are not sufficient. The original signature pages must be scanned and uploaded through the EDSS. The filer's name, address, and telephone number shall be typed or printed below the signature.
Will the Pro Se Unit provide courtesy copies of pleadings and orders filed in my case?
Any documents issued by the Court will be mailed to the pro se party free of charge. It is the responsibility of any opposing parties to provide copies of their filings to all parties in the case. The Pro Se Unit does not provide filed stamped copies of filings submitted to the Court by pro se filers without an order of the Court. Copies are available at the cost of $.50 cents per page. Copies can also be printed using the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) website (https://pacer.uscourts.gov/).
Do I have to provide copies of my pleadings to the other parties in my case?
Yes. Pursuant to Local Rule 5.4, when a document that is required to be served is served by means other than the CM/ECF system, the document must include a certificate of service indicating that the document has been served on all parties contemporaneously with its filing with the court, or within a reasonable period of time after the document has been filed with the court, and must list each party on which the document has been served by means other than the CM/ECF system, and the means of service. In general, pro se litigants must mail or hand-deliver a copy of any document they file with the Court to all other parties in the case.
How do I bring criminal charges against someone?
Only government prosecutors have the authority to bring criminal charges against someone. If you believe you have been the victim of a crime or if you have knowledge of a crime that has been committed, you should contact the appropriate law enforcement official. If you believe the crime is a violation of federal law, you should contact the United States Attorney’s Office for the district in which the crime is alleged to have occurred. If you believe the crime is a violation of state law, you should contact the police or the District Attorney’s Office for the parish in which the crime is alleged to have occurred.
My corporation has been sued; can I file papers in Court on behalf of the corporation?
28 U.S.C. § 1654 precludes a corporation from appearing pro se. A corporation must be represented by an attorney qualified to practice before this Court. Non-attorneys may appear pro se on their own, personal behalf but may not represent a corporation, even if the person is the sole owner of the corporation. The corporation must be represented by a lawyer.